Childcare professionals and families across the UK breathed a sigh of relief last week following Nick Clegg's decision to block Government plans to increase childcare ratios.
With the support of our members - childminders, nannies and nursery workers - PACEY has continually lobbied the Government to ensure it fully understood the quality and safety concerns of both childcare professionals and parents around ratio proposals.
The education minister Liz Truss claimed that increasing ratios would reduce costs for parents and thereby relieve the burden on struggling families. Yet this theory was based on little hard evidence, often based on misrepresentative comparisons with other childcare models in European countries such as France. PACEY, along with many other parents and practitioners, remained unconvinced that these reforms would actually improve quality or drive down costs for parents.
Our ongoing work with the Institute of Public Policy Research has given us a clear indication of childminders' views on ratio proposals. Seventy-four per cent of childminders say they wouldn't increase the number of children they care for, and 93% said increasing the number of children they cared for at one time would have no effect on cost to parents. Five per cent even thought that it might increase parental fees.
Yet whilst the announcement is positive news, there remains a great deal of sector concern around other proposed reforms, which are equally concerning.
PACEY's and Government's ambition for childcare in this country is the same. We both want to be able to provide children and families with high quality affordable childcare, however there needs to be a more full and open discussion with the sector and parents around how to make this a reality.
The sector as a whole needs to group together and use the momentum gained by last week's announcement to call for a holistic, consistent and logical approach from Government going forward.
Ratio change is just one aspect of what appears to be a number of conflicting government proposals that have in recent weeks only served to confuse parents and professionals. For example, on one hand Ofsted has said it wants to improve the quality of childcare and is going to focus its inspection on providers requiring improvement. On the other, Government is proposing to remove the Local Authority statutory duty that ensures these providers get the training and support they need to improve.
There are proposals to help improve the qualifications of nursery workers but no clear plan to improve qualifications for childminders. The only option that has been put forward is for childminders to join an agency if they wish. However, this has been roundly rejected by those working in the sector as likely to reduce quality and increase costs, as it is likely that childminders will be charged a considerable fee for joining these agencies.
This uncertainty needs to be resolved for childcare practice to be able to progress. We will continue to campaign for the Government to have a full and open discussion about childcare with the sector, so that the parents of young children know they can rely on quality affordable childcare for their family.
The Government should now finally publish its response to the evidence it gathered via the Childcare Commission last year. The Commission's goal was to consider how best to improve access to affordable quality childcare, including afterschool care. PACEY hopes that Government will reconsider the whole strategy of childcare reforms, by returning to the wealth of evidence and ideas many organisations including PACEY offered the Commission last year.
We're looking forward to working with senior figures in Government, including Nick Clegg, to ensure that a credible childcare strategy is developed for families and childcare professionals.